Dateline 2050

(© 1997 Quentin Bristow)

[After the year 2010, when suspended animation by freezing finally became possible, many people who suffered from severe disabilities elected to be frozen until such time as appropriate cures became available. Recent spectacular advances are now making it possible to treat many such people and large numbers of them are now being resuscitated. This article is intended to provide a synopsis of events of the past forty years for these ‘Dégelés' as they are called]

It was in the year 2010, that an electrical utility worker was inadvertently locked in one of the new superconducting electrical generating plants which were maintained at liquid nitrogen temperatures. It was two years before he was discovered and carefully removed like a giant popsicle. The resuscitation of the worker was a complete success (apart from a temporary illusion that he was a superconducting alternator), which led the way to the formation of the giant life-and-death sciences conglomerate SAC Inc., (Suspended Animation Corporation). People with untreatable injuries or disabilities could then arrange to be frozen, along with their assets, until such time as cures became available.

In the years following 2010, the pressure to maintain economic growth in western developed nations continued, despite the obvious impossibility of this being sustainable with static or falling populations. After repeated attempts to reduce labour costs in order to boost productivity and maintain the annual corporate earnings growths that all the economists of that era insisted were indispensable, it soon became apparent that only a return to slavery in some form or other would bring about the necessary cost reductions.

It started in a small way within the American public sector. In the year 2016, certain groups of public employees in various levels of government were quietly declared to be essential workers and not permitted to leave. This new strategy was presented to the nation as ‘Economic Conscription', a measure deemed to be justified by pressing economic need, in the same way that military conscription had always been justified in the event of a war. Having thus removed the basic right of these workers to seek livelihoods with whomever they wished, it was then an easy step to make cuts in their wages and benefits, which left them with nothing more than the bare necessities for food and lodging. Each time a worker had to declare personal bankruptcy (which eventually of course they all had to do), the public agency which employed them seized their assets and assigned them to live in special quarters designated as ‘State Residences', where they were provided with food and lodging.

There was little public sympathy for public sector workers in the early 2020's, when free market ideology was at its zenith, and as time went on, more and more of these employees were declared essential, and more and more levels of government adopted the practice. The idea became popular with other national governments and the process continued until by the year 2025, almost all western governments had essentially free labour, thereby greatly reducing their spending and allowing for the virtual elimination of corporation tax, something which again the economists of that era regarded as essential for continued prosperity. Multinational corporations then put the pressure on governments to pass legislation that would allow them also to declare groups of their workers as essential.

This eventually resulted in the International Agreement on Labour Imperatives being ratified by one hundred and sixty countries in the year 2029 at the meeting of the newly created Global Competitiveness Commission in Geneva. This new mandate gave any corporation having a global business value above a certain threshold, the right to declare certain groups of its workers as essential to the continued growth of the global economy, allowing them to be designated as economic conscripts.

Many governments were uneasy at the wholesale proscription of the basic rights of their citizens which this entailed, but they knew that if they declined to participate, their economies would be boycotted by the global financial forces which had come to be the de- facto superpowers in the new millennium. The global corporate sector skilfully exploited the coming centenary of the stock market crash of 1929, in their efforts to cajole national governments into ratifying an agreement to avoid another similar catastrophe. Doubters were ultimately convinced that this was the only reasonable course. After all, life as one of the new breed of economic conscripts would be streets ahead of the miserable existence of a skid-row derelict of the great depression of a century ago. All basic necessities would now be provided by the employers, including medical care. This surely represented some measure of progress compared to the last years of the old millennium, when for example, ten percent of the population of the United States had been excluded from any type of medical insurance.

Now that labour costs had been brought under control so dramatically it seemed that nothing could go wrong, but by the year 2032 it became obvious that something was seriously amiss. Sales of products started to slump world wide. The economists held conferences and studied reams of economic data, what could be wrong? Prices of products had never been more competitive than they were at that time, and corporate earnings continued to grow on an annual basis, thanks to labour costs and inflation having been virtually eliminated. Money from big institutional investors continued to pour into mutual funds and the giant multinationals were now rich enough to buy back huge blocks of their own shares to increase their value to shareholders. This in turn pumped up global stock markets to dizzying heights. All of these indicators pointed to a thriving and buoyant economy, but nevertheless the malaise grew worse. Inventories piled up to the point that production had to be cut back, leading once again to falling earnings.

It seemed almost unbelievable that the global depression of a century ago could come to pass again, despite the vast body of knowledge on economics that had been accumulated in what was by any measure the most productive century in the history of mankind. Some lay people pointed out in newspaper articles and letters that the problem just might be that with almost all the global population now designated as economic conscripts, the only people who had any money to buy the glut of products, were the people who actually owned the multinational companies; the tycoons, stockbrokers, lawyers, politicians and other valuable and productive members of society. The economists dismissed these points of view as the misguided and simplistic ramblings of people who had no knowledge of the sophistication and complexity underlying the modern global economy.

Nevertheless it was an idea that would not go away and increasingly groups of academics began to show support for it. It was finally made respectable when in the year 2039, three leading economists wrote ground-breaking papers revealing that the problem was actually a global lack of purchasing power. They were immediately awarded Nobel prizes for their work. By then, Nobel prizes were only awarded for outstanding contributions in the sciences of marketing, global competitiveness and basic economic research. The original (real) science prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine etc., had been discontinued due to the low priority given these fields by the Global Competitive Commission. The Nobel prize for literature had also been discontinued, after the book for which the prize was awarded in 2029 was found to have been written by one of the new breed of intelligent computers.

One of the prize-winning economists proposed a solution that harked back to something he had discovered called the ‘Marshall Plan', which had been implemented to deal with the economic crisis following the second world war more than a century ago. At that time an untenable situation had been reached when (as in a game of Monopoly), one player ended up with all the assets and everyone else had nothing. The winner in that case was the United States of America, and the destitute players were the European nations. The solution, known as the ‘Marshall Plan', was simply to start the game again by redistributing most of the assets. History had shown that it was by and large successful.

It took some years for the business community to grasp the fact that they could never make any more money if they had it all to begin with (short of printing more, which they knew was a bad idea). The inescapable logic finally sank in and by 2043 the notion of limitless increases in wealth created by reductions in labour costs had run its course. The Global Competitive Commission was disbanded and replaced by the Global Financial Stability Commission and new accords were negotiated and ratified, outlawing the creation of economic conscripts for any reason. All of the existing ones were reimbursed with substantial sums provided from a superfund supplied by governments and multinationals and administered by the new Commission. Human nature has not changed much and the reason that these reimbursements were approved so quickly had less to do with the morality of restitution, than the imperative of re-starting the global economy. This solution (known of course as ‘Marshall II') succeeded in restoring some sanity into the global marketplace as its predecessor had done nearly a century before.

Since then the world has become a better place. The original Nobel prizes have been re-instituted and the ridiculous excesses of the 2020's and '30s remain only as history lessons, to be learned, marked and inwardly digested. Increasingly there is a global awareness that if the immense power now held by mankind is allowed to go off-track by even the smallest amount in the zeal to make money, catastrophic results will surely follow on a global scale, either economically, environmentally, socially, or in a ghastly combination of all three.

The thorny issue of gun-control in the United States was finally solved in what must be one of the world's most comic-opera resolutions of any problem. Since the year 2010, two more U.S. Presidents and three more presidential candidates have been assassinated by guns. On each occasion (as in previous instances over the centuries), both houses of Congress were moved more in sorrow than in anger to refrain from any meaningful intervention for fear of offending the politically powerful constituency represented by the National Rifle Association, (NRA).

All of this changed dramatically two years ago in 2048, when thirty-five of the thirty- eight member executive of the NRA were mowed down at their annual convention by a vigilante group armed with the new silent atomic laser guns. The group claimed that the NRA had not been sufficiently vigilant in protecting the rights of Americans to bear arms, and that their next targets would be all members of both houses of Congress.

Within days both houses had drafted legislation to outlaw the use of weapons by other than ‘Authorised Militia Units of the People'. This distinction they claimed finally made the wording of the original constitutional amendment ‘compatible with twenty-first century reality'. The new law carried the ringing endorsement of the NRA's president Charlatan Hestosterone, who stated that: "The right of the people to bear arms must never be interpreted as acquiescence in anarchy."